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The law of sedition

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Fareedah Hameed reviews a new handbook on the law of sedition edited by Hamid Ibrahim and Nasser Hamid.

Sedition: Cases and Materials, 400 pages
Prof. Hamid Ibrahim and Nasser Hamid
Gavel Publications,
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia (2010)

Throughout the history of governments and its people, the (sometimes) fine line between sedition and free speech has always been uneasy and conflict-ridden.

Sedition laws have been in use since the beginning of time; they have their roots in an era when statesmen and political leaders were considered to be largely above reproach by the common person, and when the institutions of government were far more parlous than at present.

It is a ubiquitous fact of history that most leaders who wanted independence from their colonial masters were arrested and imprisoned using sedition laws e.g. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

So it comes as no surprise that sedition laws remain controversial.

In simple terms, the offence of ‘sedition’ can be defined as the act of exciting or attempting to excite feelings of disaffection to the Government of the day. It relates to the uttering of ‘seditious’ words, the publication of ‘seditious’ libel and conspiracies to carry out an act for the furtherance of a ‘seditious’ intention.

Malaysia is no different from other countries when it comes to sedition – it is a crime and the Sedition Act 1948 (Revised) 1969 Act 15 came into force on 19 July 1948. Sedition, whether by words spoken or written or by conduct, is punishable by fine and imprisonment.

Of particular interest is Section 4 which states that ‘any person found guilty of the offence of sedition shall, on conviction, be liable for a first offence to a fine not exceeding RM5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

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Any seditious publication found in the possession of the person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs’.

The heart of the conflict with this law is how it relates to the universally constitutionally guaranteed freedoms relating to free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.

However in Malaysia, such freedom is subject to a wide variety of legislation which can and may curtail or restrict those rights.

Among the legislations that restrict freedom of speech and expression are the:

  • Internal Security Act 1960 (Revised 1972) (Act 82)
  • Police Act 1967 Act 41;
  • Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1975;
  • Prevention Of Crime Act 1959 (Act 297);
  • Public Order (Preservation) Act 1958 (Act 296) and
  • Sedition Act 1948 (Revised) 1969 (Act 15).

These laws restrict such freedoms with punitive measures which in many cases cannot be questioned by the courts. That is why the law of sedition is seen by many as an affront to the inalienable rights of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

Sedition: cases and material

In this book, the editors Prof. Hamid Ibrahim and Nasser Hamid have carried out extensive research that explains this nebulous crime in an easy to understand style.

The Introduction delves into the historical development of the law of sedition in great detail. The book also traces the development of the law of sedition and its application firstly in Malaya and now Malaysia. The mainstay of this publication is the examination of all Malaysian judgments pertaining to the subject.

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This is the first local publication to provide all relevant materials on the law of sedition in a single volume. It also provides information on articles and other material on the subject and has a section of words and phrases which help define the crime. For ease of reference, the Sedition Act 1948( Revised 1969) Act 15 is also provided.

This publication will be an asset to practitioners due to its breath of coverage, scope and detail. It is comprehensive and contains a thorough review of case law and legislation.

This book should be an indispensable companion to all members of parliament, state legislative assembly members, NGOs, politicians and concerned citizens.

Note: Readers may order this book through Aliran at the discounted price of RM80. Usual price RM170.

Fareedah Hameed has spent the last 20 years as a writer, communications strategies and speaker. She co-wrote the book ‘Bosnia: Beyond Words, Beyond Tears’, a non-profit publication in support of the Global Humanitarian Campaign for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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